Tag Archives: 2020

Monthly Playlist: Nov. 2020

1 Dec

This month has been a big one for music-related news, from the AMAs to the GRAMMY nominations. While there were certainly moments to celebrate (see: Dua Lipa bagging wins and nominations galore), there were also some notable let-downs (see: the GRAMMYs’ radio silence on Rina Sawayama and the Weeknd!). Awards shows aside, though, there were some great tracks this month. Read on for our top five picks from November 2020.

5. “505 (Live)” by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys return in December with a studio album – but before you get excited, it’s not new content. In the mythical past known as 2018, the Monkeys performed at the vaunted Royal Albert Music Hall with a set-list drawn partially from Tranquility Base and mostly from their older material (i.e. a palatable ratio). The proceeds from this album, recorded that evening, will go toward War Child, a non-profit focused on helping children from war-torn nations. As a promo for this live album, the band has released the live version of their classic “505”, and we must admit that it sounds great. The acoustics of the famous Hall lend new depths to the song, as do Alex Turner’s vocals – which have unmistakably changed in style since this song’s original version in the mid-aughts. If you can, get this one on vinyl.

4. “Man’s World” by Marina

Marina, formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds, has been a favorite of ours for many years. We’ve always loved the way she does pop – with all the bubblegum sex appeal of Selena Gomez and the like, yet imbued with biting self-awareness that is rare in the genre. With “Man’s World”, the multi-faceted popstar takes on the male-driven world (as the title suggests) with a good measure of COVID- and climate-change-reckoning thrown in. “Don’t underestimate the making of life / The planet has a funny way of stopping a fight,” she warns. The weirdest part of the song is her long interlude about the noted homophobe Sheikh of Brunei buying an LA hotel overtaken by the gays – but hey, she knows her audience.

3. “Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish delivers the ultimate snide cold-shoulder with catchy new single “Therefore I Am”. She delivers the line “Stop, what the hell are you talking about? Ha” with all the iciness of the high school queen giving you a sneering look, and quotes (of all people) Rene Descartes in the chorus: “You think you’re the man, I think, therefore I am”. As with most Billie songs, the magic lies in her brother Finneas’ precise, inimitable production values; we especially loved when the heavy, layered chorus occasionally breaks into Billie’s crystal-clear voice. Reading between the lines, the song seems to be about someone she has been linked with (she mentions being asked about them in interviews and articles) – let us know if you’ve cracked the code.

2. “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)” by Miley Cyrus feat. Stevie Nicks

Maverick pop star Miley Cyrus has released her latest album Plastic Hearts earlier this month. Probably the most innovative track off the album is “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)”, a mash-up of Cyrus’ own recent hit “Midnight Sky” with Stevie Nicks’ legendary 80s banger “Edge of Seventeen”. And what’s more – Nicks herself performs on the track! “Edge of Midnight” is an electrifying mix of these two ladies’ instantly recognizable voices. Expect to get goosebumps the first time Cyrus sings the famous “Just like the white-winged dove” line in her deep, powerful voice.

1. “HOLIDAY” by Lil Nas X

There is honestly no justification to why Lil Nas X should continue to churn out impossibly catchy songs with no real changes to his formula. “HOLIDAY” follows the same ingredient list as the mega-platinum hit “Old Town Road” – the minor scale, a simple and repetitive beat, his silky-smooth and slightly anachronistic voice; and yet we fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Move over, Mariah – this is our holiday song from now on. (Side note: This song got us talking about a literal “Holiday” playlist, so keep an eye out for that!)

Amaarae – THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW

25 Nov

I would have thought Afrobeats was too new to support something like THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW, but it’s clear that Amaarae is not the type to wait around for other people to catch up. THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW takes pieces from the rapidly rising Afrobeats, but mixes in influences from all over the place to make something that is impossibly even more catchy than any of its sources.

This is exemplified by the sublime “HELLZ ANGEL.” It has a clever, tripping beat and her art-pop high pitched voice plays against it well. When the song gets going, it’s compulsive and then she switches her tempo before diving into a quick rap with the excellent “I don’t make songs / Bitch, I make memories / I don’t like thongs / Cuz they ride up in jeans.”

She has a lot of fun in the album. “SAD, U BROKE MY HEART” is the most Afrobeats of the tracks here and it uses the playfulness of the genre to great effect with the gentle singing and the blunt title and on the complete other side of the spectrum, she brings in some emo-rap for the very cute “FANCY.”

For all of that though, the other album highlight is the amazing “JUMPING SHIP.” The tenderness in her voice is exceptional and the song hits all the right notes of regret. It does a lot to ground the album after all of lightness surrounding. it.

In this fusion that Amaarae found, she’s accomplished something extraordinary. This is an infectious, clever album and some of the best music of the year. You should not miss it.

Ty Dolla $ign – Featuring Ty Dolla $ign

20 Nov

I absolutely love the concept behind this album. It’s anything but uncommon to see Ty featuring on someone else’s album. He’s a good person to fill a gap if needed and this can make it hard to take him seriously for who he is. Like 2 Chainz, it feels like he’s making a push for auteurship and I’m glad to see it.

The idea of taking a ton of features himself and not only owning his shapeshifting, but using it to make an album that is uniquely his excited me. I was hoping for something like LEGACY, LEGACY with space for the people mentioned to actually show up. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign falls somewhat short of that in a number of ways, but there’s still plenty in here.

He does well in the harder half of the album. “Expensive” with Nicki is a lot of fun. He has a great flow in “Real Life” and “Double R.” “Freak” uses Quavo very well. Cudi also shows up well in “Temptations.”

It’s in the slow tracks that Ty misses the mark. “Everywhere” is fine technically, but is forgettable and doesn’t fit in particularly well. “Your Turn” is honestly execrable and “Slow It Down” is a similar weak point. His crooning in “By Yourself” has moments though, but it doesn’t have the energy of the Afrobeats musicians in the same space and Jhene Aiko, while fine, is forgettable.

It all comes together in the closer “Ego Death” though. The Kanye / Skrillex beat is top-notch and not only is the rap excellent, but the shift in sound for FKA Twigs is exactly what I was hoping for throughout the album.

Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is not exactly what I was hoping for, but there’s a lot of solid music in here. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a good time and a very clever path for Ty Dolla $ign to take.

Ariana Grande – Positions

12 Nov

Ariana has hit a productive streak of late, and a fairly solid one too. Positions isn’t the revelation that thank u, next was, but it’s still a fun pop album. “34+35” is a cute little sex jam and “my hair” is strong R&B in a Solange vein.

It’s not all what I would hope for though. “just like magic” is a little uninspired and a little grating. “off the table” does nothing by reuniting The Weeknd and Ari, which is a shame given how well their previous collaboration worked. “motive” is effective for most of the song, it’s both suspicious and tender and compelling for it, but sadly the Doja Cat feature detracts from the whole thing.

Still, any flaws are made up for with “positions.” It’s a magnificent song. Her voice is deeply alluring and the song takes an intricate opening and makes it an excellent beat.

Positions is just a good time. Ariana is having fun and being sexy and making frothy pop music that’s a pleasure to listen to.

Ozuna – ENOC

5 Nov

If you haven’t tried modern reggaeton yet, Ozuna has just made the album for you. The Spanish-speaking Carribean mix of dancehall, rap and singing has had plenty of mainstream success already, but this album feels built for crossover appeal.

Ozuma just brings so much energy and so much charisma to this album. It’s irresistibly likable. This is at its best in the admittedly slightly basic “Gistro Amarillo.” It’s just too catchy and upbeat to deny.

He’s very good when he keeps that energy up, as he does on “Del Mar” which does really well for the Doja Cat and Sia features, and through most of the album. However, he misses the mark on his slower songs, like “No Se Da Cuenta,” which is made forgettable in part due to the inclusion of the King of Reggaeton himself, Daddy Yankee.

This is definitely the place to start if you want to jump into the new Puerto Rican hotness and is fun enough to be a good time whatever the case.

Bartees Strange – Live Forever

29 Oct

There are some time-worn traditions when it comes to being a music fan. At some point, you realize that you’re older than the hot new popstars, you begin to appreciate some of the music your parents liked (although ABBA is still garbage) and some clever new musician takes your formative music and remakes it for the modern world. I’ve never seen someone take as much of it as Bartees Strange though.

“Stone Meadows” feels like a more cerebral Foo Fighters or like TV On The Radio at their best and Bartees Strange spends most of his time in this space, but then there’s plenty of art-pop and jolts of rap and house. “Kelly Rowland” is more emo-rap than anything else, but with some very intricate threads running through it.

The variety and the scratchiness give this album the feel of a personal mixtape, something compiled mostly from the sounds of the early 00s, but with snatches from other eras as well. For all of that variety though, Strange keeps the album cohesive. It’s a remarkable achievement.

For someone who came to music then, someone ever closer to their thirties, this album is undeniable. It doesn’t feel like nostalgia though, it doesn’t make me feel like I did back then. It is just very good music that speaks to something fundamental in me.

21 Savage and Metro Boomin – SAVAGE MODE II

21 Oct

I watch the NBA a lot and there’s something that comes up every now and again. You’ll get a star player on the breakaway, an athletic player who you know can do something special, someone like LeBron James, and there’s no one between him and the basket. It’s the kind of moment that gets you on the edge of your seat. You see him go up, but instead of anything special, the ball just goes in the basket. No windmill, no arm cock, just two points. That feeling, the feeling of hoping for a highlight and getting a simple dunk instead, that’s the feeling of SAVAGE MODE II. There’s a sense of deflation, but two points are still two points.

21 Savage has already proven himself as a rapper. He’s already found success. And Metro Boomin is Metro Boomin. He’s an institution at this point. This is an album that was built for greatness. It’s a shame that it never does more than reasonable.

This is most evident with the recurring Morgan Freeman appearances. He’s meant to lend gravitas, to make the album cinematic, but instead he bores. His “Snitches & Rats (Interlude)” is uninspired and unintelligent and I can’t remember a single thing from his intro and outro.

The Drake feature is in the same vein of big rapper moves, but does a lot better than the Morgan Freeman parts. Drake feels a little by-the-numbers and 21 isn’t anything special here, but it’s still a fairly solid song. The Young Thug feature does better, but 21 doesn’t feel comfortable in it.

He hits his flow in a couple of places here though. “Glock In My Lap” is the cinematic sound that the rest of the album tries for and “Brand New Draco” is very competent. There’s no question about 21’s talent at this point. He just needs to learn how to relax again.

Fireboy DML – APOLLO

15 Oct

Nigeria is fast becoming a music powerhouse on the international stage. Fireboy DML makes it clear from the beginning that this is something you should be paying attention to. “Champion” starts APOLLO with a silky-smooth tone and then mixes in African themes. It also just means more to hear someone claim themselves a champion in Nigerian patois.

Those Nigerian inflections work well through the album. Songs like “Spell” and “Sound” are catchy, toe-tapping music but would have had nothing more to offer were it not for the Afrobeats elevating them. Meanwhile, “Shadé” has an interesting beat, but that gets completely overshadowed by the textured vocals of the songs. It’s an absolute stand-out and a strong pitch for stardom.

However, Fireboy’s other shots for the big stage miss more than they hit. “God Only Knows” is the outtake that even the direct-for-TV Lion King movies wouldn’t accept. While “Friday Feeling” is nice and upbeat and fun to listen to, it’s very shallow and doesn’t even stick to you when it’s playing. “Remember Me” ends the album on a similarly forgettable note.

When everything clicks for Fireboy though, APOLLO is a solid achievement. It may have flaws, but this is a signature moment for Nigerian music and another reason to be excited about what is to come.

Jyoti – Mama, You Can Bet!

11 Oct

You only get an album like this once or twice a year. It’s no mean accomplishment to make music this varied and Jyoti makes it with consummate skill. She skims across genres without a ripple, selecting pieces to meld into an album wholly her own. 

She’s at her best in pieces like “This Walk.” It’s a slow, meandering song, but one where every path is interesting and filled with tiny, rewarding diversions. It’s very laid back, but so dense with thought that it’s very compelling nonetheless. It takes the ambient sounds that she uses throughout the album and cuts it to great effect with the clarity and jaggedness of her voice.

The serrated songs do well. “Ra’s Noise” is similarly jagged and unexpected, but moves further into jazz with a prominent and energetic saxophone. The barbed funk of “Hard Bap Duke” is noteworthy in the same way. This is not to disparage the other tracks here. The traditional jazz of “Swing, Kirikou, Swing” and the ambient of “Quarrys, Quarries” are both very good and the screeching guitar in “The Cowrie Waltz” is fascinating. However, while “Bemoanable Lady Geemix” is interesting for feeling like something out of a hip-hop producer’s album and makes for good background listening, it’s a little shallow. “Ancestral Duckets” is similarly listenable, but could have used more thought.

Mama, You Can Bet ends up with a lot going for it. The range and ability on display here is astonishing. A couple of the pieces here fall short of what one would hope and there’s no single piece that truly stands out, but those are minor blemishes in an album of excellent quality and singular execution.

Aminé – Limbo

19 Sep

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how likable Aminé can be and how much that adds to his music. I’m always happy to see what he’s up to. He’s not the only rapper to be this upbeat or this insouciant, but he’s easily the one that I like the most.

Sometimes, this is exactly right. He has a talent for catchiness and so songs like “Compensating” really take off. He has fun, his personality gets to shine and Thugger is a good complement for him. When he gets into his flow, like in “Woodlawn,” he’s a lot of fun. “Riri” is him in his comfort zone, but better than he’s ever been before. That hook in particular is a top-tier earworm.

There’s a fair bit of air in the album though, as is unfortunately common for Aminé. “Pressure In My Palms” tries his standard formula but isn’t catchy or interesting enough. It doesn’t show him off at all and sort of feels like a Vince Staples outtake. Similarly, “Roots” reminds me of Saba and Kendrick, but I’d rather listen to them than this.

“Mama” has him trying sincerity, but it’s not a strong move. He doesn’t have the toughness for the move to feel like a softening and he’s too ironic for a straight-edge song. “Fetus” is slow and thoughtful and quite well done. It’s not innovative, but it is good and the grapefruit line hits.

You have to take Aminé for who he is. This isn’t the kind of album that’s going to stick to you long after it’s done. Instead, it’s an effervescent album with fun lines and catchy hooks and one that you’ll feel good for having heard.

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